Digital assistants and workers in requirements management
“But, boss, I can’t clone myself!” We all know this sentence from our projects, when suddenly a bottleneck arises, for example when a customer makes a big update of the requirement specification and the requirements have to be evaluated quickly and no qualified employees can be found. What can we do in such a situation? One possibility is to work with digital assistants and workers.
Artificial intelligence, robotic process automation and chatbots are increasingly changing the way we work. Digital assistants or employees – known in English as Digital Employees, Digital Assistants or Digital Workers – are already on the market. The state of the art in Artificial Intelligence already makes it possible to implement the necessary skills that a Digital Requirements Manager, for example, requires. A Digital Worker relieves the team of routine tasks and thus provides more time for the important tasks when working with requirements.
Software bots, digital assistants and digital workers
Digital Workforce describes a variety of solutions for the automation of tasks. In most cases the Digital Workforce is a virtual software robot that either autonomously executes the task in the background or interacts with other employees. Using Digital Workforce increases productivity and efficiency of work.
The Digital Workforce can be divided into the following categories:
- Software Bots – Completion of individual tasks
- Digital assistants – monitored completion of the job role (attended automation)
- Digital employees – autonomous completion of the job role (unattended automation)
Robotic Process Automation is the most widely used solution for automation. Software Bot or RPA-Bot is software programmed to mimic human actions and execute individual tasks. Software Bots are based on Robotic Process Automation and if necessary also on Artificial Intelligence.
The Digital Employee is a software that models and takes over human job roles, as well as end-to-end tasks. Digital assistants are based on Artificial Intelligence and Robotic Process Automation. The Digital Employee frees human employees from repetitive tasks and provides more time for the completion of valuable tasks.
In comparison to the Digital Assistant, which performs its tasks autonomously (unattended automation), a Digital Assistant needs monitoring or human input to perform its tasks (attended automation).
Digital employees/assistants are already widely used today, for example for tasks in project management, ERP administration, order-to-cash, source-to-pay and talent acquisition payroll administration.
The state of the art technology
Digital Workforce is already offered by some companies, mostly as software bots, but also as workers on a monthly basis. Software tools are available for those who want to develop their own workforces. Cloud platforms like Google, IBM or SAP can also be used accordingly. For example, the IBM platform supports the development of digital workers: “A human-centered automation tool for building intelligent digital workers”.
Digital Requirements Manager
Model job role
In order to delegate the tasks to a requirements manager, or to develop software for requirements managers, we must first examine the job role, i.e.
- the order of the tasks,
- the duration of the tasks, and
- the interactions with the other job roles.
Based on the findings of the investigation, concrete tasks and key performance indicators (KPIs) can be defined.
From an existing Requirements Management workflow, it is possible to identify the tasks that are performed repetitively and routinely, because such tasks are good candidates to be taken over by a digital worker: importing the new customer requirements into the Requirements Management tool, comparing the customer requirements with the latest status, examining the new, modified or deleted requirements, recognising duplicate requirements. Assigning the appropriate experts for an analysis is also a task that a digital employee can perform.
The digital requirements manager is born
In order to be able to perform the identified tasks from the job model, the digital employee must learn all the necessary skills. Sometimes it is also necessary to develop completely new skills.
The skills that our digital requirements manager should be given are
- Identification of requirements from documents (Word, PDF),
- classification of requirements into “functional” and “non-functional”,
- assignment of requirements to the expert areas,
- semantic search of requirements,
- comparison and search for similar requirements,
- translation of requirements into another language,
- read and send emails,
- starting an RPA bot, and
- estimation of effort for assigned tasks.
Integrate the digital requirements manager into the team
The management of digital workers is not much different from the management of human workers. In the beginning, one would give the digital worker a less important task and subject the results to a review or test in order to check its functionality. The KPIs can be monitored in the same way as for human employees. For example, our Digital Requirements Manager could send an invitation to review by email after each import of requirements.
The Digital Requirements Manager as internal or external worker
Digital workers can be implemented and used within the company, i.e. on-premise. In such a setting, IT should generally take care of maintenance, ongoing development and support. Alternatively, the digital worker could be hired like an external employee. The company looks for a provider and concludes a contract on a monthly basis, similar to a Software as a Service Agreement (SaaS). In contrast to SaaS, there is an onboarding phase in this case, in which, for example, e-mail and tool access is granted and company-specific processes and possibly also technical terms are learned. Which option makes more sense varies from company to company. This also applies to the requirements manager as a digital workforce. Whether an internal or external solution is better depends on the IT strategy of the company.
The Digital Workforce is not the future, it is the present. A Digital Requirements Manager can be usefully employed to relieve human employees of repetitive, low-impact tasks. This frees up more time for creative tasks and increases team efficiency and productivity. And as in other areas of digitalisation, the same applies here: companies should not wait with the introduction of a digital requirements manager.
Dr. Marija Kopf
Dr. Marija Kopf holds a doctorate in computer science and has extensive experience in the fields of process automation, software processes and methods. She focuses on artificial intelligence, especially machine learning, speech and image processing and their possible applications. And she is managing director and founder of the Start Up REQBEES (https://reqbees.com) and the consulting company Dr. Kopf GmbH (https://drkopf.de).